Here’s a sentence that I translated from Chinese. My American friend just proofread it for me, but we had an disagreement over the word “cause”. He said that I should’ve use “cause” instead of “causes”, but he didn’t know why. He said that it felt odd to use “causes”. Could anyone explain it to me regarding why I should use “cause”?

Here’s the sentence:

It’s not inappropriate to focus on eliminating highly susceptible places or circumstances for fire, but the problem is: Are illegal rooftop subletted rooms the only factor that causes such tragedies?

Please let me know if there’s anything else in my sentence that’s weirdly constructed, thank you!


2 Answers 2


The question at the end of that sentence sounds odd because you are mixing a plural noun (i.e., rooms) with a singular noun (factor) before the verb.


Do illegal rooftop subletted rooms cause such tragedies?

In that wording, the plural rooms matches with the verb cause.


Is this the only factor that causes such tragedies?

In that form, the singular factor matches with the verb causes.

Your sentence mixes the plural rooms with the singular factor, making it hard for you to figure out which form the verb cause(s) should take. (This isn’t necessarily ungrammatical, but sometimes this can make a sentence sound odd.)

I think one easy way to remedy this is to use the noun form of cause:

Are illegal rooftop subletted rooms the only cause of such tragedies?

but you would have to decide if that shifts the meaning of the sentence too far away from your original intent. If so, you could try removing the that, and using an -ing form:

Are illegal rooftop subletted rooms the only factor causing such tragedies?

  • Thank you JR. I love how you dissect the sentence. When I wrote the sentence, I was pretty sure it should be “causes”, since the clause modified the factor. It’s my friend who got confused by my poorly written sentence. I didn’t know mixing a plural noun with a singular one would cause such confusion... Why shouldn’t I mix them? That “rooms” is “a factor”, and the clause modifies “a factor”, isn’t it? Dec 6, 2017 at 1:27

You ask if there is anything else unnatural in the sentence.

...eliminating highly susceptible places or circumstances for fire...

I would change the order to say this.

...eliminating places or circumstances highly susceptible to fire...

First susceptible for is odd. And when you separate that from the thing in question (fire) we start wondering what a "susceptible place" is. For example, a susceptible mind is a thing (and M-W's example).

  • I agree, but there is more here that is problematic. Circumstances don't burn. Dec 5, 2017 at 22:38
  • My friend told me that the sentence was odd, so he suggested me to change the “to” to “for”, which I don’t understand. I like your version. It makes my sentence sounds a lot better. Thank you very much Cxed. Dec 6, 2017 at 1:42

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